The most-common dietary supplements all seem to “make sense.”
The reasons to take additional vitamins, magnesium and calcium are no secret; they’re not “magic pills” with surprising health benefits, since we all learned in health class how important those dietary supplements and minerals are to the body.
That brings us to bee pollen.
You probably haven’t heard or read much about bee pollen benefits. But they’re so numerous that the substance has not only been a staple in the traditional practice of Chinese medicine for centuries, but Germany’s federal Ministry of Health recognizes it as a medicine rather than a supplement. (1)
We’ll be taking a closer look at why bee pollen is an excellent addition to a supplement regime, but we’ll tackle the more obvious questions first: what in the world is bee pollen, and why would anyone even think about swallowing it?
What is Bee Pollen?
When worker bees land on a flower to pollinate it and gather nectar, tiny bits of the flower pollen wind up stuck to the hair on the bees’ legs. Some of the pollen remains with the nectar and is a sign of high-quality, raw honey, and some is stored in the honeycomb where it ferments and becomes food known as “bee bread” (which is different than the royal jelly used to feed queens and larvae).
But as the bees return to their hive much of the pollen falls off, and it’s gathered in traps that have been set up by the beekeepers. That honeybee pollen may be just a byproduct of the honey-making process, but it’s nothing to sneeze at (sorry about the pun); bee pollen contains a huge number of beneficial substances that make it an ideal supplement or food additive.
The Surprising Contents of Bee Pollen
Generally speaking, bee pollen contains as many as 250 different vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, flavonoids and enzymes. Among the vitamins are C, D, E, F, K, folic acid and all of the B vitamins except B-12. The minerals include magnesium, zinc and sodium. It’s also carbohydrate- and protein-rich. In fact, one expert tells the Huffington Post that bee pollen is a “superfood” and the best source of vitamins that can be found in any single food. (2)
That helps explain why bee pollen is valued as a health supplement. Many people add the pollen in its natural pellet form to oatmeal, yogurt, frozen yogurt and smoothies; it’s crunchy, somewhat tasty, and definitely good for you. But the more common usage is in supplement powders and pills, which are taken for a wide variety of health reasons.
The Many Health Benefits of Bee Pollen
Research that’s been done on the positive effects of bee pollen supplements is far from comprehensive (as is the case with similar substances), and the FDA does not rigorously regulate dietary supplements. Some results have established, some have been reported from limited studies, while others have been interpolated from what’s already known combined with testing on animals or in a lab setting.
However, the evidence behind many of bee pollen’s purported benefits is compelling.
- Bee pollen is an antioxidant: The pollen’s abilities to fight oxidants and free radical damage are similar to those found in fermented foods, thanks to its vitamins A, C and E, as well as substances like flavenols, carotenoids and lycopene. (3) Strong antioxidants have been found to be effective against many causes of chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer, and to fight inflammation and infections.
- Bee pollen is an anti-inflammatory: Some experts liken the abilities of bee pollen to those of prescribed anti-inflammatories like naproxen and indomethicin, because of substances in pollen like the antioxidant quercetin. Studies have also claimed that flavonoids in the pollen can induce the production of some hormones that suppress inflammation. (4)
- Bee pollen can boost the body’s immune system: Research has shown that bee pollen can reduce the frequency and severity of allergic reactions, by stopping the activation of the mast cells that trigger many seasonal allergies and hay fever. (5) It’s also been confirmed that bee pollen is a potent antimicrobial, and that it can kill some dangerous bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and the strains that cause some staph infections.
- Bee pollen may help prevent or treat cancer: Lab studies have found that some bee pollen extracts show promise in slowing or stopping tumor growth in certain types of cancers like uterine, breast and prostate cancer. (6)
- Bee pollen may help wounds to heal: Animal studies, not yet confirmed with humans, have shown that bee pollen extracts or balms have been very effective in treating burns, with far fewer side effects than traditional medical treatments. (7)
- Bee pollen may help the body absorb and utilize nutrients more effectively: The bioflavonoids, proteins, amino acids and Vitamin C in pollen appear to aid in the body’s absorption of nutrients, particularly minerals. (8)
- Bee pollen shows promise in a number of other areas: Tests done on animals suggest that pollen can aid with such varied and important functions as muscle growth (which could have an effect on athletic performance) and metabolism (which could have an effect on weight loss), as well as increasing blood supply to the nervous system (which could fight stress and improve mental function).
Who Should – Or Shouldn’t – Use Bee Pollen
Many alternative medicine practitioners suggest taking bee pollen, either in granules added to food or taken in supplement form, as part of an overall natural health program; it’s available at most health food stores.
Most people can use bee pollen since it causes no serious side effects, although those who are pregnant or nursing, and those with blood disorders, liver disease or allergic asthma should check with their doctor first. The only people who should definitely avoid using it are those who have pollen allergies, those who are allergic to honey or other bee products, or those who have bad reactions to bee stings; the negative effects of bee pollen on those individuals can include itching, swelling, light-headedness, shortness of breath or even anaphylaxis.